Bhagavad Gita Commentary Chapter 9
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UNITIVE CONTEMPLATION AS A ROYAL SCIENCE
AND CROWNING SECRET
In many respects, as we have indicated more than once, we
arrive here at a section of the Gita in which its best
contribution as a revaluation of ancient wisdom, both in its
exoteric and esoteric aspects, as well as in its pure and
practical aspects, taken together, is stated.
For the first time we notice that the initiative passes from
the questioner to the answerer in the person of Krishna, who
himself represents the Absolute. The disciple's initiative
begins to be weakened. The rapport established between him
and his Guru becomes more complete and the mutual adoption
implied in the situation becomes more patent There is no
complaint on the Guru's part of carping by the disciple,
nor any complaint of the Guru confusing his mind on the part
From the opening of this chapter the Guru himself begins
to occupy the centre of the stage. He is at least as interested
in teaching as the disciple seems to be in learning.
The nature of the subject-matter of this important
chapter is sufficiently clear from the opening verses
themselves. It can be readily seen why the title of the
chapter itself is taken from the second verse.
As we scan the rest of the chapter we find there is a more
balanced symmetry maintained here than was possible
hitherto, although at the end of chapter viii the author
managed to state the case of the dichotomous principle
involved in this science as closely and clearly as was
possible (see viii, 26).
The Absolute represented by Krishna is made to declare
unequivocally in Verse 29 of this chapter that he is neither
interested in the good or the bad people, but is indifferent to
both of them alike. This aloofness and neutrality denotes
highest level of purity that can be attained in the teaching of
the Gita. Even the importance of his own personality tends to
be minimized in this chapter. The Vishnu, the avatar, the
Krishna aspects, tend to be effaced and merged into a
comprehensive and pure notion of the Absolute in the light
of the finalized teaching contained here. It is only the
foolish, according to Verse 11, who are carried away by the
manifested aspects and are unable to grasp the notion of the
Absolute in its purity and totality.
The mystery and wonder of the Absolute is enhanced by
Verse 5 where all mutual interdependence between the
phenomenal and the noumenal is cleverly cancelled out and
all theological scaffolding removed, so that the notion
of the Absolute emerges in all its purity and glory.
The relative aspects of holiness or spirituality are again
alluded to only to be brushed aside as being of no
consequence, as if with a little gentle play of sarcasm in
Verses 20 and 21.
This cannot be missed by the eye of the keen critic.
The importance of recognizing the Absolute with higher
reasoning in terms of principles is referred to clearly in
Verse 24. Although it sounds very tolerant of all approaches
to the Absolute it still insists most emphatically upon laying
down that they fall who do not know the nature of the Absolute
in a manner in keeping with tattvah (first principles). While
most forms of worship are tolerated or permitted, it is the
wisdom of the Absolute alone which can emancipate.
The chapter ends by a reference to the hope which the
way of the Gita gives to all people without distinction,
whether they are the worst sinners, proletarians, or women.
The open way here does not exclude or shut its doors to
As a kind of final mark of punctuation we have the
famous Verse 34 repeated in almost identical form in xviii,
65 at the end of the whole treatise. Even taken with the
slight variation, this verse has a significance which should
never be lightly overlooked. The verse marks the middle of
the work and therefore holds a very strategic position
rhetorically in the Gita teaching as a whole.
It concerns what we might call the central doctrine of the
Gita, if such a doctrine could be singled out at all. The
establishment of a strict unitive relationship with the
Absolute as understood through the various chapters of the
Gita is what is recommended as the best way to attain the
Absolute which is the same as the highest goal or salvation.
Such a unity between the two has to be further understood
to be at every conceivable level or form of spiritual
affiliation whether the form is of worship, personal
surrender or yogic unity.
idam tu te guhyatamam
jnanam vijnana sahitam
yaj janatva mokshyase 'subhat
To you indeed who do not mistrust I shall declare
this profound secret of wisdom together with its
applied aspects, by knowing which you shall be
freed from what savours of evil.
We have pointed out how the initiative here passes on to
the teacher. Krishna now occupies the centre of the stage.
The force of the word tu (indeed) almost implying "on
the other hand", points at the special importance of this
chapter as intended by the author. Attention is further
drawn to the unique nature of the teaching here by the
expression guhyatamam (most secret). But the superficial
reader is unlikely to see in this chapter in which statement
this great secret of secrets is lodged.
The reference to asuya (usually translated "cavilling" or
"carping" and given here as "mistrust") involves an attitude of
disadoption, resulting in a lack of sympathetic understanding
between teacher and pupil.
The power to listen is as important as the ability to teach,
especially where such profound secrets are involved. The
relation has to be strictly bipolar. Mistrust and rivalry
between the two have to be completely eliminated. The
importance of this guru-sishya relationship is not unfamiliar
in other works such as the "Viveka Chudamani" of Sankara. It
is even held generally in Vedanta that no worthwhile
teaching can come except through the mediation of a proper
guru, and the recognition of a teacher who is pleased by the
service rendered by a pupil is a desired condition, usually
expressly indicated in all samvadas (philosophical discussions)
of the same kind before any serious teaching begins.
Here in this chapter this particular type of recognition is
given to Arjuna as a disciple, for the first time.
Expressions like saumya (pleasing one) and vatsa (child)
are found elsewhere in the Upanishads, which indicate the
same mutual recognition which may be said to be a form of
The reference here to the absence of such a disadoption is
therefore an important prerequisite before the proper
teaching can begin.
The expression jnanam vijnanasahitam (wisdom together with
its specialized implications) would suggest in the first
instance that there is even in this chapter, detailed
indications regarding the practice of spirituality. As a
matter of fact we do not find any such practical directions
at all, except perhaps what is implied in Verses 26 and 34.
The reference to wisdom coupled with specific knowledge must
therefore be understood to mean that here in this chapter
the pure and practical aspects of wisdom are unitively
treated as if they were one. Practice is not a department
of spirituality outside the scope of pure wisdom.
The previous discussions have laid the foundation stone
by stone and step by step for the justification of the
stand taken here.
The last vestige of duality which seemed to persist as
between theory and practice in the previous chapter
where it recommended "remember Me and fight"(viii, 7)
and the double indication of "utter Aum...and remember
Me" (vii,13) are here transcended.
The reference to asubhat (from evil, sin, something
inauspicious) comprises both evil and sin understood in
the moral, religious or value sense. This is a hearkening
back to the starting position of the work as a whole,
because it was upon Arjuna's obsession with sin or evil
that the discussion began, and thus it is the central
practical problem which should never be bypassed, even
in this central chapter.
The way of moksha (emancipation) and the way of wisdom
are treated indifferently here. This is quite in keeping
with what has already been said in iv, 36, where the raft
of wisdom was referred to as being able to carry one beyond
sin. In fact, a position almost similar to this has once
been covered in Chapter iv, where wisdom is given full primacy
over all religious practices whatsoever, including the
highest forms of sacrifice, as in iv, 33. This, taken together
with iv, 32, almost
reaches the same height of the absolutist doctrine more
definitely finalized in the present chapter.
pavitram idam uttamam
susukham kartum avyayam
Royal science, crowning secret, purificatory is this,
superior, objectively verifiable, conforming to
right living, very easy to live (and) subject to no
The character of the teaching which excels, both as a
public or scientific and open way of wisdom, as also one
which holds the profoundest of secrets which belong to the
esoterics of spirituality, is extolled further in this verse.
The teaching becomes royal in the sense that a public
road may be said to be royal or belonging to the kingdom,
and thus open to all who choose to walk on it. It is not
reserved for the chosen few. This is made clear in Verse 32.
The secret referred to may be said to be indicated in
Verses 11 and 24. Here the epithet raja means "crowning"
and is not because of its public nature but in the unique
value of the teaching.
Pavitram (purifying) should be understood in the same
sense as already indicated in the previous verse. It is what
clears away the dross of evil whether in the form of sin,
action or ignorance.
The term pratyakshavagamam (experimental) as understood
in modern branches of knowledge, is a quality rarely
claimed for teachings which belong to the metaphysical
domain. No laboratory experiment can be meant, but in
so far as the methods and results come within the purview
of what could be observed in objective terms, this epithet
as applied to the teaching here can be justified. An
objective, critical, scientific treatment could be included
under the term here.
The word dharmyam (in accord with right living) is also
important, because the prevailing notion with regard to
esoteric teaching is that it is removed from the norms of
good life here understood in the human context. As a public
discipline, on the other hand, philosophy can err by going to
the other extreme of setting up standards beyond the reach
of the ordinary man.
It is claimed here that the teaching of the Gita avoids
both these extremes and that it is "easy of practice", while
it remains avyayam (unexpended). This last epithet raises it
to the category of the eternal once again.
The fact that this way with such an open character does
not yet detract from its superiority is implied in the word
dharmasya 'sya paramtapa
aprapya mam nivartante
mrityu samsara vartmani
Men without wholehearted faith-affiliation to this
way of right living, 0 Burner of Foes (Arjuna), not
attaining to Me, return to the paths of mortality
and cyclic repetition of existence.
This verse begins the main section where the notion of
the Absolute which Krishna represents is subjected to final
revision and restatement. He puts himself at the head of all
Vedic and other divinities, and his relation to creation is
made as mysterious and paradoxical as befits the purest
way of appraising the Absolute.
Although permitting all forms of worship from the most
childish such as the offering of fruit and flowers to God, he
says that all those who do not understand him as the
Absolute, fall. Thus this chapter speaks of a way of life
which is referred to in this verse as dharmasya'sya (of this
way of right living).
When we consider that in its conclusion the Gita, in xviii,
66, says that anything known as dharma (codified conduct)
may be abandoned by the absolutist, a reference here in the
present verse to faith and conduct as if still tolerated, is
only in view of the fact that the discussion is not yet
completed. Even here, however, the word dharma (codified
conduct) should be understood to be used in the general
sense, as when we say upanishatsu dharmah (way of life in
keeping with the Upanishads). Likewise, the faith here
refers to the ekantika bhakti - the one-pointed devotion
to the Absolute.
Arjuna is still a seeker, and like a brahmachari (religious
student) he may be said to begin to walk in the path of the
Absolute. At the end of this chapter, however, we see that
he has no need any more to think in terms of the way any
In the word asraddadhinah (those who lack faith) it is
suggested that a certain adoption of the new revalued teaching
is an important necessary condition here. One has to be free
from all prejudices. Thus there is the need for such insistence
in terms of faith, though the goal is not strictly a religious
one, but one which pertains to universal wisdom. Faith here
can only be understood as referring to wisdom.
The subject of return and non-return of the soul after death
is alluded to again here in the term nivartante (return)
because this is the pivotal consideration on which the subtle
distinctions intended in this chapter and in the Gita as an
Upanishad may be said to revolve. Referring forwards we
have another allusion to this in Verse 21, and we recall also
that chapter viii ended in Verse 26 on this very same theme.
The distinction of the Gita consists in its upholding of the
non-returning path, which is the same as that of thorough-
going absolutism. All other paths, it is suggested here, make
one return to what is described in this verse as consisting of
the way of mortality and cyclic repetition of existence to
which all relativist spirituality must necessarily be subject.
The plural case emphasizes what has been said in 11, 41 .
Maya tatam idam sarvam
na cha 'ham teshv avasthitah
By Me all this world is pervaded, My form unmanifested;
all beings have existence in Me and I do not have existence
The unravelling of the mystery of the Absolute begins in
this verse. It is insisted here that the Absolute is without
form. The same vague or unmanifested nature of the
Absolute is further emphasized in Verse 11.
Although thus the formless Brahman is given a central and
most important position in the Gita teaching, a concession is
made in xii, 5 in favour of persons who might find such pure
teaching difficult of adoption in their own personal lives.
When we note this we find that the pure philosophical
position of the central core of the work is deviated from in
later chapters, greater and greater concession being made to
the workaday requirements of the ordinary man, until we
become able to
distinguish in this present chapter and in Chapter xviii the
various natural duties which belong to the four orders of
society based on individual variations in type and vocation.
In a graded descending series in successive chapters the
work touches on more concrete aspects such as the three
gunas (modalities of nature), higher and lower values
implied in conduct, after recognizing the duality between
kshetra (field) and kshetrajna (knower of the field). An
awe-inspiring picture of the Absolute conceived in terms of
time or becoming leads to the notion even of a punishing
god in certain of the later chapters. The peak of the
discussion being over in Chapters ix and x, there is need for
the structural arch of the Gita to rest on real terra firma
once again. If this general structure is kept in mind, we
shall be able to see that although, doctrinally speaking, the
Gita upholds the manifested Absolute, it progressively
compromises its own teaching when it comes to a life that
is to be lived in workaday terms.
The paradoxical wonder of the Absolute is therefore at its
highest in the present chapter. In the light of what we
have said it is but natural. Beings exist in the Absolute but
the converse is not true, and is here denied. Exactly what
then is the relation between the Absolute and existence
remains a wonder and a mystery. This mystery is further
heightened in the verses that follow.
na cha matsthani bhutani
pasya me yogam aisvaram
bhutabhrin na cha bhutastho
mama 'tma bhutabhavanah
And further, beings do not exist in Me; behold
My status as a divine mystery; further, Myself
remaining that urge behind beings, I bear them
but do not exist in them either.
Manifested beings do not have existence in the Absolute
either, although the relationship of ruler and ruled might be
postulated between them. Mamatma (Self of the Absolute)
seems to make the relation subtler still, as it is this Self
which is stated here to be the vital urge behind the
emanation of all beings.
What remains when all these vague indications are kept
in mind? This is stated frankly, in the verse itself to be a
by the expression pasya me yogam aisvaram (behold My
divine mystery). Yoga here points at some mystery as in the
phrase Yoga Maya (the illusive effect of negative reality)
employed in vii, 25.
We are reminded of Zeno's paradoxes here. The wonder remains,
unsolved by any logic. When the meaning is subjected to final
scrutiny it amounts to saying that Krishna as representing
the Absolute has no ahamkara (individual ego) as might be
the case with ordinary human beings. If then, we ask why
the personal pronoun is used by Krishna we are obliged to
say that it is for purposes of conforming to literary
requirements. It is thus that he attains the divine status
of a wonder, by being an ego-less Self.
yatha 'kasthito nityam
vayuh sarvatrago mahan
tatha sarvani bhutani
matsthani 'ty upadharaya
As the great (expanse of) air filling all space has its
basis in pure extension, thus you should understand
all existences as having their basis in Me.
By a familiar example this verse attempts to clarify the
mystery. It takes two subtle phenomenal entities, the wind
that blows everywhere, filling all space, and the sky that
contains it. The more general entity is included in the more
particular one, though both come under what may be called
the expansive or the great.
Between the air and the sky the difference is not one of
degree but of kind. The Absolute similarly belongs to its
own category, though resembling the principle of mahat
(the great) of Samkhya (rationalist) doctrine. In fact the
word mahat (great) used here in qualifying the air is
reminiscent of the same subtle distinction. We would
normally have expected the adjective to qualify the sky as
the Absolute, but actually it is applied to air which though
great is a more relativist entity. The notion of the Absolute
in the Gita is thus equated to the notion of the highest Self
when purified of all egotism, but it is not to be mixed up
with the mere principle of mahat (the great) of the Samkhya
system. It requires a revised epistemology which the Gita
supplies here, bringing the abstractions of the Samkhya
concept nearer to human
life-values, while still retaining its uncompromising
prakritim yanti mamikam
kalpakshaye punas tani
kalpadau visrijamy aham
prakritim svam avashtabhya
bhutagramam imam kri'tsnam
avasam prakriter vasat
All beings, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), pass into My
nature at the end of a unit of cosmic duration
(kalpa) and at the beginning of the same unit, I
By virtue of My nature, I emanate again and again
the whole aggregate of beings, subject as they are
to the necessary compulsion of nature.
The cosmological process of emanation and withdrawal
into the prime nature of the Absolute in a rhythmical
manner, this time has kalpa (in Vedic computation a large
unit of cosmic duration equal to 1000 yugas or to one "Day
of Brahma") as its measure. A similar alternating processes
between the day and night of Brahma, consisting each of
1000 yugas (meaning a very long astronomical aeon
aggregating, according to experts, to 4,320,000 solar years,
and divided into various periods such as Satya, Treta,
Dvapara and Kali) was mentioned in viii, 17. Although the
picture here is apparently similar to the cosmological
process described in the last chapter, there are some
striking differences to be noted.
There it was conceived in terms of alternation between
day and night or light and darkness. Here the twin aspect is
not given any importance, although the beginning and end
of a kalpa or"Day of Brahma" are still envisaged. The
alternation is not between manifested and unmanifested
reality, but between reality in its prime state and its
emanation as nature, immanent and transcendent being
treated as a whole.
The Absolute itself thus comes to be viewed as capable of
having two aspects, one in which it is pure and another in
which it is viewed as if conditioned or coloured by factors
that come under nature.
The relation between this nature and the pure Absolute
itself is one which is similar to the relation between Maya
(relativist appearance due to the principle of error) and
Brahman (Absolute Reality). Not infrequently, we find that Maya (appearance) is the same as Brahman (the Absolute),
because on final analysis Maya as mere appearance has
no existence outside the Absolute. These are subtleties of
the Vedanta philosophy to be dealt with in their own place.
What we have to note here is that nature is hidden in the
Absolute at certain times, while at other times it is not
hidden but evident, or in other words that nature is
virtually present in the Absolute at a given cosmological
moment, while at other times it appears in a more
The object of the author evidently is to present a
cosmological picture which will still uphold the unique unity,
aloofness and overall primacy of the Absolute. This
cosmological allusion is justified in this chapter only as a
final concession to Arjuna, whose background of
spirituality, whether belonging to the devayana (divine
path) or pitriyana (way of the ancestors) in context, is still
coloured. Even in the case of other seekers or aspirants to
wisdom there is need, though perhaps in a modified form
in keeping with their own particular backgrounds, for a
realistic picture from this side of reality. Dry abstractions
in the Buddhistic style are exactly what the Gita is reacting
against. The difference in style and approach is the same
as between Kant and Bergson.
Nature may be said to be an instrument of the pure Absolute
principle. Instead of creating the various aggregates of
beings which we see in the universe, it is this nature
principle which has itself a status approximating to the
Absolute itself and to which all agency in the act of
particularized creation is attributable. The unconditioned
Absolute itself is to be left out of the picture and the
relation between this nature instrument and its operator is
only something like that of a controlling magnet in certain
electrical instruments. By its mere presence, somewhat like
a catalytic agent, the Absolute helps nature indirectly and
, as it were, from a distance, to fulfil its work with all the
compulsive force of necessity which belongs to nature.
While nature is fatalistic, the Absolute belongs to the side
of providence which is a witnessing presence with its own
subtle influence ever counteracting the fatality implied in
The subtle relationship here is as between sin and grace in
theology (brought out for example in "The Imitation of Christ")
or as between an inexorable law and indeterminism in modern
scientific theory. It is referred to in Taittiriya Upanishad
xi, 6. Thus the import of the word avasam (helpless, i.e.,
by force of necessity) should be understood imaginatively,
or even with a certain intuition. The necessary and the
contingent sides of reality meet in unity in the purest
notion of the Absolut,e which is here attempted to be
na cha mam tani karmahi
asaktam teshu karmasu
Maya 'dhyakshena prakritih
hetuna 'nena kaunteya
Further, these works do not bind Me, 0 Winner of Wealth
(Arjuna), for I am seated, seemingly indifferent,
unattached to those actions.
By Me presiding, nature gives birth to both the moveable
and the immoveable entities; because of this, 0 Son of
Kunti (Arjuna), this (moving) world revolves.
These verses further underline the aloofness of the
witnessing presence of the Absolute, unaffected by actions
or movements, as we have already explained.
The expression suyate (gives birth to) suggests that the
Absolute is the masculine principle. The same idea is
repeated more concretely in xiv, 4. The agency, however,
is less pronounced here, in keeping with the spirit of the
The expression viparivartate (revolving inversely) seems
to suggest a double process of involution and dissolution
when taken with suyate (bringing forth). But this, being
here hardly more than a suggestion, can bear no further
avajananti mim mudha
param bhavam ajananto
rakshasim asurim chai'va
prakritim mohinim sritah
The foolish misunderstand Me because of My
adopting the human form, ignorant as they are of
My being that is beyond, as the Lord of all beings,
Of frustrated hope, of frustrated deeds, empty of
wisdom, non discriminating, like malignant titans
and demons, submitting themselves to a nature (of)
These verses state the position in regard to spiritual life
which may be said to be the most important contribution of
the Gita. While pandits are still discussing the relative
merits of saguna archana (offering flowers to a deity with
qualities) in relation to the meditation on nirguna Brahman
(unqualified Absolute); here is an unequivocal statement at
the very centre of the Gita which, although stated so
clearly, still suffers at the hands of apologists in the name
of image-worship and ishta devata upasana (propitiation of
a chosen deity).
Modern Hinduism, especially after the decadence of the
more philosophic schools of thought, has connived at many
forms of religious practice, some of them being but puerile
forms of popular adoration, on a par perhaps with the
kissing of the brass or plaster image of Jesus in Milan and
elsewhere, and violating even sanitary principles.
Some people even think that if they shed tears before a
photograph or picture it will bring them spiritual progress.
No respectable scripture however, can be quoted in support
of such practices. In fact in the Bhagavata iii, xxix, 21,
it is referred to as archavidambanam (unnecessary or even
deceitful display of worship). It must be remembered also
that in the Visvarupa Darsana (Vision of the Absolute in
Universal Form), Chapter xi, 46, the Gita presents Arjuna as
asking Krishna to show himself in the familiar form of
Vishnu so that he could
worship him as a divine being known to him. But we see in
Verse 51 of the same chapter that this request is refused,
and that it is the ordinary human form that Krishna prefers
to assume, treating the request of Arjuna with scant respect
as it were, or even ignoring it.
The reference to the offering of flowers in the present
chapter (Verse 26) is often thought by many as supporting
the usual form of worship through offerings familiar to the
Indian scene. But even there, no allusion is made to an
image, and moreover the reference is more permissive than
mandatory in character.
Even puerile forms of worship resorted to with motives
that are pure are permitted a place in the scheme of worship
in the Gita, but a positive injunction to do puja (ritualist
action) as a stepping-stone to reach the Absolute, as some
people put it, is nowhere supported, even in Indian
scriptures. In fact the contrary is stressed in the Gita in
places such as iv, 33. Even in the Puranas (legends)
Ravana's puja (ritual) full of elaborations and many objects
is spoken of disparagingly.
But puja (ritual) through mantra (mystical utterances)
and japa (repetitions of formulae) has always been
preferred to mere upasana (propitiatory worship through
vows). These latter, moreover, have been referred to as
inferior in the Upanishads (e.g., Kena Upanishad 1, 4, 5).
The Gita being a Yoga sastra (textbook on unitive
understanding) dealing with the science of the Absolute,
continues the rational philosophic tradition of India without
giving room for any heterodoxy. Such being its essential
nature it is but natural to expect that it would not uphold
puerile or lazy forms of worship. The strong note here thus
becomes levelled against people who would misunderstand
the true nature of the Absolute. The protest here is in the
same spirit as in xviii, 22, as when a man gives importance
to a particular object as against its universal import as a
principle. Quotations from the Gita itself which suggest the
same perversity among men can be multiplied (e.g., xviii,
One thing, however, is clear: the denunciation of this type
of perversity is stated in most emphatic terms here, as we
see from the term mudhah (fools) and other expressions,
no less denunciatory by which the greater part of Verse 12
is filled. Equally strong denunciation is shown in vii, 25,
where the objection is of the same kind though not stated
so precisely or finally.
All static or fixed notions of the Absolute should be
considered out of place in the strict light of Vedanta. A
static view, even when it is glorified by myth and symbol,
only becomes worse than the commonsense reality of the
Absolute considered as a good, great or loveable man in the
ordinary sense. The misunderstanding of the Absolute
referred to here covers all anthropomorphic forms and notions
possible, from the most simple to the most elaborate.
Perhaps the most excusable of them all is when a good man
is extolled as having mystical attributes as in the Arthurian
legends, or in the case of hero-worship, where a Rama or a
Krishna begin to represent the Absolute. Siva is said to be a
simple hunter who, attained the status of the Absolute as the
Tandava-Murti (divine dancing form). However exalted or
excusable all these might be, they fall short of the ideal held
up to view in this chapter which is given to the wisdom-
vision alone, and for which the Gita stands.
The param bhava (being that is beyond), i.e., in the great
Unmanifest referred to before, gives status of overlordship
over the visible world to the Absolute intended here.
Verse 12 continues the denunciation in measured and
graded language by a series of deliberately thought-out
epithets which seem to follow a tacit epistemological
framework. The same framework can be discerned in xviii,
14, where the various factors are enumerated but in reverse
The term asa (expectation) refers to the future and is a
vague spiritual factor like hope in Christian theology. The
next epithet refers to karma (action) which is more
ontological in character. Finally there is asuri (demonic)
which may be said to be a quality of earth, earthy.
Moha (confusing) really refers to the confounding of
values resulting from lazy attitudes or attachment to sense-
objects. The true contemplative is the one whose intelligence
can penetrate reality without distortion. Others follow the
track of wrong interests at every level and thus their life
becomes full of frustration.
The words asura (demon) and rakshasa (malignant titan)
may be understood to refer to people of low interests or
crude values based on sense-pleasures or mere particularized
objectivity. The word asura (demon) is employed in a
similar sense in vii, 15 and in Chapter xvi is treated more
exhaustively in contrast with the devas (bright deities),i.e.,
those who are capable of appreciating higher values.
mahatmanas tu mam partha
daivim prakritim asritah
bhajanty ananya manaso
jnatva bhutadim avyayam
But those of Great Self, 0 Partha (Arjuna), affiliated to
My divine nature, adore with mind exclusive of all
extraneous interests, having known Me as the unexpended
primal Source of all beings.
This verse states the converse position. Those who are of
a pure disposition, however, are here called mahatmas (of
great Self) as contrasted with the lower types of the last
We should notice that the affiliation to the two contrasted
cases belong, as it were, to opposite poles. The affiliation
of the former two classes is through the senses to values
that are particular and objective, while in the case of
those who are called of Great Self here it is to the bhutadi
(primal Source of beings). This Source may be said to be
a higher value or to represent universal values.
The reference to ananya manasah (mind strictly exclusive
of all extraneous interests) again stresses the condition
of bipolarity in relation to the Absolute as it should be
understood in the Gita.
satatam kirtayanto mim
yatantas cha dridhavratah
namasyantas cha mam
bhaktya nityayukta upasate
jnanayajnena cha 'py anye
yajanto mam upasate
bahudha visvato mukham
Always singing praises of Me, ever striving, firm in vows
and saluting Me devotedly, they are ever united in
Others also, sacrificing with the wisdom-sacrifice,
unitively, dualistically as also in many ways
facing universally everywhere, worshipfully attend
These two verses serve the purpose of linking together
orthodox religious trends with heterodox rational trends,
both of which have existed side by side on the Indian soil.
Verse 14 alludes to vows and disciplines or methods of
worship common in India under the caption of Yoga as
understood in the Gita, as indicated by the phrase nityayukti
In so far as these disciplines or practices, however
commonplace or ordinary, have by yogic affiliation the Absolute
as their object, they become raised to a freshly revised status,
and are therefore included for respectable mention and
recognition here. Dialectical revaluation which is the method of
the Gita, as of every form of religious progress in the course
of history, is sufficiently evident here. There is no abrupt
breaking away from whatever has been in vogue. There is
fulfilment without destruction, and as Moses was revalued by
Jesus, a subtle dialectical method is here also applied.
The expression kirtayantah (singing praises), the references
to vratih (vows), to namasyantah (salutary worship) and to
upasana (worshipful attendance), all represent popular forms
of practice found in religious life, especially where no
heterodoxy is involved.
Rational schools however, tend to be heterodox because
they are philosophical. The varieties in such a context are
also enumerated in Verse 15.
Although there is no direct reference here to Yoga, as a
general heading for the varieties mentioned in Verse 15, there
is the expression jnanayajna (sacrifice of wisdom) which can
have meaning only as understood in iv, 33 and in iii, 70, as
an expression peculiar to the Gita as a textbook on Yoga
Yajna (sacrifice) and upasana (worshipful attendance) are
also introduced even in the philosophical context. Worship
and philosophy, at least in the Gita, are not advocated in
that pronounced contrasted manner known in the West.
Such expressions as these mentioned in a philosophical
context help to make the arrows point both ways as it were,
reconciling religion and philosophy.
The different schools of philosophy are brought under
three headings here: those that speak monistically; those
that admit a dual principle, whether in the form of a
worshipper and a worshipped or between spirit and nature,
etc.; and those comprising perhaps the pantheists, who take
the whole universe as consisting of the presence of God.
This third category might include even the pluralists,
nominalists or conceptualists, and Leibnizian monadists
need not be excluded from this group.
Whatever the variety of philosophy, they are brought
here together as being affiliated to the notion of the
Absolute in one way or the other. They all hold the Absolute
dear, and thus belong to the one grand category which the
Gita wants to recognize in a very catholic spirit.
The Gita may be said to refer to them elsewhere, e.g., to
those of unitive outlook or monists in ii, 41, to dualistic
philosophers in viii, 26, and to universal pantheists in
Chapter xi. Without reference to schools of philosophy we
can interpret these three classes as those who think
unitively, those who accept the dual principle for
methodological purposes, and those who are able to see
unity in multiplicity.
The object here is merely to bring all appreciation of the
Absolute under one comprehensive or universal vision.
Such a vision, however, is not to be looked upon as being
tainted by any kind of solipsism, syncretism or eclecticism.
It is when it is viewed in the light of pure epistemology that
the necessity for such a vision emerges as a culminating or
crowning finality. If, however, to this finalized epistemological vision is added a notion of supreme values, there emerges that complete idea of the Absolute to which the Gita is never tired of referring as the greatest of secrets.
The Absolute is not any particular value as such, but the
principle which runs through all, correlating and coordinating
all of them into one whole. Such is the suggestion contained
in vii, 7.
Thus it is a grand epistemological value-factor which
gives meaning to truth or reality as most comprehensively
conceived. No system nor any discipline falls outside the
scope of such an Absolute, and all religious or philosophical
systems are but cross-sections of its global entirety which is
aham kratur aham yajnah
svadhi 'ham aham aushadham
mantro 'ham aham eva 'jyam
aham agnir aham hutam
I the ritual action, I the sacrifice, I the ancestral
oblation, I the potent medicinal herb, I the holy
formula, I also the melted butter, I the fire, I the
The next section of four verses attempts to mark out the
limits and the amplitude within which this all-comprehensive value called the Absolute swings. Different departments in religion, or holy values, are all enumerated to enhance the wonder and the numinous nature of such a notion.
No major type of spirituality is omitted. If some religions
call God the Father; or some others stress the Motherhood
principle - in terms of supreme value they have to be looked
upon as the same.
Moreover we notice from a scrutiny of the instances given
that ends and means are treated indifferently, as we have
seen in iv, 24.
Ritualism, religion, theology and cosmology are the various
approaches covered here. Verse 19 marks the ultimate
limit of such a comprehensive vision when it sums up by
saying that the Absolute is both being and non-being. The
position is reminiscent of the last section of the Mandukya
In Verse 16 in particular, the attempt is made to reconcile
ends and means, the path and the goal.
pita 'ham asya jagato
mata dhat pitamahah
vedyam pavitram aumkara
rik sama yajur eva cha
I the Father of this world, the Mother, the Supporter
and the Grandsire (ancestor), the Holy One who is to
be known, the Purifier, the syllable Aum, as also the
(Vedas) called Rik, Sama and Yajus.
This verse attempts to reconcile different theological
aspects of divinity, including the word Logos as Aum, as
well as scripture itself, which is considered holy. They all
represent theological values in one context or another.
gatir bharta prabhuh sakshi
nivasah saranam suhrit
prabhavah pralayah sthinam
nidhanam bijam avyayam
[I am] the Goal, the Supporter, the Lord, the Witness,
the Abode, the Refuge, the Friend, the Becoming, the
Dissolution, and Ground of Being, ontological Basis,
and never-expended Seed.
A similar synthesis is effected between ontological or
teleological aspects of the Absolute, whether conceived as
the Overlord or merely as a Witness. Aspects of Self-
surrender are treated on a par with reality conceived in
terms of a supreme value as suggested by the term
nidhanam (treasure-house) which could also be understood
as the simple ontological basis of reality.
No purpose would be served by going into the various
implications of these epithets. They cover every form of
possible value in the contemplative context.
tapamy aham aham varsham
nigrihnamy utsrijami cha
cha amritam chai 'va mrityus
cha sad asach cha 'ham arjuna
I radiate heat (and) I rain; I withhold and I send forth;
I am immortality and death; as also being and non-being,
This last verse of the section sums up in more orthodox
fashion how the Absolute is the meeting-place of opposites.
Cool rain and parching heat as phenomenal factors that are
held together unitively is the first notion of the Absolute
presented here. Similarly, holding back and letting-go
represents another pair in the phenomenal world which similarly
neutralize each other in the Absolute. The next pair,
immortality and death, are also juxtaposed and cancelled
out in the neutrality of the Absolute; and finally being and
non-being, which pair is the greatest and most favourite of
all the paradoxes in the Vedanta, is mentioned. This last
pair treated as the two opposites belongs to the
Unmanifested which is the basis of both, as stated in viii,
traividya mam somapah putapapa
yajnair ishtva svargatim prarthayante
te punyam asadya surendralokam
asnanti divyan devabhogan
te tam bhuktvah svargalokam visalam
kshine punye martyalokam visanti
evam trayidharmam anuprapanna
gatagatam kamakama labhante
Knowers of the three (Vedas), soma-drinkers,
purified from sin, worshipping by sacrifices, pray
of Me the way to heaven; they, attaining the holy
world of Indra (Lord of Gods) enjoy divine feasts
They, having enjoyed that expansive heaven-world,
then on their merit exhausted, they enter the world
of mortality, thus conforming to the righteous notions
implied in the three (Vedas), desiring desirable objects
they obtain values which come and go.
These two verses refer to Vedic forms of relativist worship
which it is the main task of the Gita to consider as its
anterior position to be revalued and restated in keeping with
its own absolutist way.
In doing so, however, no wholesale condemnation is resorted to.
On the other hand there is praise, giving full credit to
whatever good such relativist worship might imply.
The picture presented here of souls that rise to the expansive
heaven of Indra, and after enjoying the feasts there, descend
once again when their store of merit is exhausted, is not
however without a touch of sarcasm.
This is all too evident in expressions like asnanti divyan
divi devabhogam (eating in heaven of the divine feasts of the
deities) and svargalokam visalam (expansive heaven) and in
the anti-climax implied in gatagatam (going and coming).
These flavour all too clearly of gentle sarcasm as usual in
many parts of the Upanishads themselves where Vedic chanters
have even been compared to croaking frogs.
The use of special metre in these verses, however, indicates
the opposite. There is exaltation and joy implied. The lower
dharma (right behaviour) of the Vedas is not discarded in
favour of the higher dharma of the Upanishads, or the latter
considered at the expense of the former. Both are accepted in
the spirit of the same song, which knows no duality
anywhere. The position is not different from that of
Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (iii, i, 2).
when he accepts the cows with gold tied to their horns, and
then takes up the challenge
regarding the true nature of wisdom. That is why we find
the sublime metre present together with the touch of
sarcasm fitted into the song. The poetic result is similar to
that found in Dante and Milton and one forgets the doctrine
in the sheer musical delight of the sublime song.
Notice here in Verse 20 that although the Vedic
worshippers happen to pray to the same Absolute, their
prayer is not for wisdom but for enjoyment. This makes all
the difference in principle and it is not surprising in the
light of what is to follow in Verse 23, where it is conceded
that even the worshippers of other deities than what is
represented by Krishna, who is the Absolute, are in reality
recognized as worshipping the Absolute in principle,
ye janah paryupasate
yogakshemam vahamy aham
Those persons who meditating on Me to the exclusion of All
else, worship Me, to those ever established unitively I
bring that solace of the unitive way of Yoga,
This verse is often quoted by pious admirers of the Gita teaching who attach importance to the security that they imagine as suggested here on the part of a conventional God to the devotee. But more than this well-being taken in the usual sense, there is a well-being implied here which is of the nature of Self-realization, which is generally overcovered by their piety and anxiety for security. It is beyond question that the Yogakshema (well-being or happiness through unitive understanding) referred to here cannot be something like welfare or security in the ordinary individual or collective sense, although such an implication need not be purposely ruled out from its meaning. When we remember that Yoga is what the Gita preaches throughout, Yogakshema (the happiness resulting from unitive understanding) must mean something that is different from the transitory happiness gained by Vedic worshippers which was depicted in the preceding verses.
In the first place it must connote lasting happiness, and
secondly it must have something to do with affiliation of
yogi to the Absolute, in a manner which excludes all change,
relapse or return from a state of happiness.
That such is the sense intended is further indicated by
the repetition here of the same conditions which we have
noticed already, such as ananychinta (meditation to the
exclusion of all else) and nityayukta (ever-united) which
are concomitants of the bipolar relation which we have
understood to be the essential feature of the type of self-
surrender recommended throughout the Gita.
It is not in terms of heaven or enjoyment that the yogi
gains advantage, but in terms of Self-knowledge and unitive
wisdom which brings everlasting joy, knowing no fluctuations.
ye 'py anyadevata bhakta
yajante sraddhaya 'nvitah
te 'pi mam eva kaunteya
Even those who, devoted to other gods, worship them with
faith, they in fact worship Myself, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna),
though not conforming to orthodox rules.
This verse can be considered as complementary to what
has been said in Verse 20, where the prayer is wrong but the
affiliation is right. Here, conversely the prayer is full of
faith but the affiliation is wrong.
Whether it is one way or the other the results accrue. The
faith-element referred to here contains implicitly a spiritual
directive which benefits the aspirant. The subject has been
covered before in vii, 20 and 21. It was individual desire
which deflected the devotee towards other gods there, and
faith was out of the question. The element of faith, however,
which was lacking in the case of the worshippers in vii, .
20, was what made them go astray. But when this element
of faith, mentioned in vii 21, was introduced, the relation
became straightened again and tended to become firmer day
In the present verse the condition of faith is fulfilled, but
as is stated in the next verse, the danger of blind faith
without knowledge is brought out. Again as between sin and
grace there is a subtle balance between faith and wisdom, of
which the latter is a regulating factor in maintaining the
relationship soundly and correctly.
The catholicity of the Gita as an open way of life is
unquestionable according to the present verse, as it throws
open the door of recognition even to those who do not
worship Krishna himself, but who happen to have
heterodox faith in other gods. No more generous attitude
could be expected or imagined, and the Gita teaching is
therefore one conceived in terms of universal hope for all
humanity. People have only to understand correctly the
laws implied in the Science of the Absolute contained in
the Upanishads. Thus the Gita becomes a sastra (textbook)
of wisdom, and not a closed religion of the Hindus, the
Bhagavatas (worshippers of Krishna) or anybody else. It is
not "theism", as Professor Edgerton and others would have
aham hi sarvayajnanam
bhokta cha prabhur eva cha
na tu mam abhijananti
tattvena 'tas chyavanti te
I am indeed the Enjoyer, as also the Lord of all sacrifices;
but they fall indeed who do not understand Me according to
The necessity for affiliation to the Absolute is continued
here, this time through wisdom and not through faith. Blind
faith can go off the mark though in principle it need not
necessarily do so.
Thus between all these cross-clauses of the various verses
there is implied a variety of Cartesian Occasionalism. This
is similar to the cross-clauses in the Christian gospel of St.
Matthew regarding those who are with or against Jesus
Christ. There is a subtle bipolar agreement here between the
worshipper and the Absolute, which succeeds or fails
according as the faith is of the right quality or the wisdom
of the right kind.
In this verse it is the possibility of the wisdom not being
finalized which results in the fall mentioned.
True faith, which may have even circumscribed knowledge, gives
the same result as when knowledge is finalized, though the
faith may be feeble. It is the purity of the bipolarity which
is established between the individual and the Absolute which
counts. The relative strength of either faith or wisdom, as
long as it does not interfere with this bipolarity, produces
the same resultant.
Parental affection depends upon filial loyalty and vice
versa. Such is the dialectical relation between faith and
wisdom here. Narayana Guru states the same principle very
clearly in Atmopadesha-Satakam (Verse 60).
"Should knowledge even be brought within the domain of egoism,
and the supreme import of what has been said be forgotten,
(even thus) misconstrued, like the Principle supreme itself,
such knowledge can never become alien to the knowing Self."
Here, by saying that Krishna as the Absolute is the enjoyer
of all sacrifices, it is merely intended to explain in the
ritualistic language of the Vedas, that at one pole of the
bipolar situation there is the Absolute, while at the other
there is the sacrifices or aspirant. Whatever the form of the
sacrifice, a relation between the sacrificer and the Absolute
depends on having a right notion of the Absolute. Whether
this notion is of an academic perfection or not, it has to
be a correct one as far as it goes, here called tattvena
(in accordance with first principles).
Such a relation, when correctly established, succeeds,
whereas all other relations fail. The failure due to wrong
faith does not arise. That would be like saying that a mother
does not love her child while the child loves the mother.
The latter can fail, but the former never does. Thus with true
faith, when it is there, the question of its failure does not
arise. A wrong notion of the Absolute, however, would be
a definite drawback. Of the two factors involved, the right
notion of the Absolute being more directly within the control
of the individual, should be consciously cultivated.
Though faith is an equally important, or even a more important
factor, blind faith can still have dangers which should be
avoided. The fall referred to in this verse at least that
such a danger is possible.
yanti devavrata devan
pitrin yanti pitrivratah
bhutani yanti bhutejya
yanti madyajino 'pi mam
Votaries of the divinities go to the divinities, votaries
of the ancestors go to the ancestors, sacrificers to
elemental existences go to elemental existences; and
so too My worshippers attain to Me.
The need for right affiliation with the Absolute is again
stressed. If a person has ancestral values in mind which do
not strictly pertain to the Absolute, and if he still thinks that
he is pious in the correct sense, he will miss reaching the
highest that is implied in the Gita teaching. The result of
wrong affiliation is temporary, as stated in vii, 23. Three
kinds of such wrong affiliation are referred to here.
pattram pushpam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayachchhati
tad aham bhaktyupahritam
He who offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit,
or water, that do I accept as being offered with devotion
by one who makes the (right) effort.
The converse case of a man of faith is the basis of this
oft-quoted verse. The offering of a flower or a leaf is a
symbolic act sufficiently familiar in India. Even this simple
or almost puerile form of propitiatory offering is not
rejected in the Gita. In a revalued or permissive form it is
given due recognition with one important proviso, as
contained in the expression me (to Me) bhaktya (with devotion).
The devotee must be sure that he is offering it to the highest
Absolute and secondly he must have that bhakti (devotion) of
the right quality or intensity. Given these two conditions
even this simple worship gains the same status as the fullest
philosophical affiliation of a wise man to the Absolute.
The reference to prayalatmanah (of one who makes the right
effort) is to the intention implied in the worshipper
which is of determining importance as is the case with an
accused in a court of law. Although the objects offered are
trivial, if the qualification of the worshipper is in accord
with the requirements as understood here, the worship is
said to be right.
yat karoshi yad asnasi
yaj juhoshi dadisi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kurushva madarpanam
What you do, what you eat, what you offer, what you give,
what austerity you practise, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), let
that be done as an offering to Me.
The ordinary necessary occupations in a man's life should not
hinder or enter into conflict with the way of wisdom. The
implications of the direction given to Arjuna in viii, 27 to
be a yogi at all times, which was covered at the instinctive
functional level in v, 8 and 9, is further re-examined here
in terms of more conscious activities in which a man might be
engaged, especially in his religious or spiritual life.
As recommended in v, 8 and 9, where it is a denial of
action, here the same Yoga consists of surrendering all actions
to the Absolute. In other words the personal motive of the
action is minimized and the general and universal consciousness
of the Absolute which may be spoken of as the general good at
all times, as a supreme or universal value is here kept in mind.
The egotistic edge attached to actions is thus rubbed off and
it is in this sense that surrender to the Absolute should be
understood. The moral sense which is present as a categorical
imperative in each person thus finds expression in a way of
life which implies global generosity referring to all beings
and for all time.
Note that dadasi yat (what one gives) included among the
other references, which are of a religious character and not
philanthropic or altruistic, implies open goodness to all and
a universal generosity rather than mere interest in personal
emancipation. In such a surrender intended here, therefore,
the idea of generosity and religious spirituality are treated
together without difference.
Reference also to austerity which belongs neither to religion
nor ethics is likewise not omitted.
Read side by side with Verse 34 with which this chapter
closes, where allusion is also made to different styles of
worship or spirituality, it is clear to us what this chapter
aims at accomplishing before it closes. It is a rounding-up
of all forms of anterior spiritual trends in India under one
all-presiding notion of the Absolute, whether understood as
a value or merely epistemologically. The sense of value and
wisdom are both brought together and the path merges with
the goal, as we shall presently see
more clearly. Salvation is not something for which we wait
at the end of meritorious conduct but the conduct itself
when surrendered to the Absolute is virtually a form of
In this cancelling-out of ends and means, the path and
the goal of the meritorious actions and the resultant
emancipation, consists the secret of the Yoga as presented
in the Gita.
The force of kurushva (do thou) in this context should
be taken to be more permissive than mandatory. Such a
direction has to be understood the same way as when we
read a signboard which might read "walk on the pavement"
which permits people who want to walk on the road, and
does not apply to others such as those who might be going
in a car, etc.
subhasubha phalair evam
mokshyase karma bandhanaih
vimukto mim upaishyasi
Thus you will be liberated from the bonds of action,
whether its results are good or evil. With Self affiliated
to unitive Self-denial, as one thus emancipated you will
attain to Me.
Hitherto it was asubha (evil or sin) which was referred to
as something to be avoided. It would be normal in the usual
ethical or religious context to find a scripture recommending
the avoidance of evil and the gaining of merit or good. But
here in this central chapter, as also in the earlier ii, 57,
and in one of the further chapters, xii, 17, we find allusion
indifferently to good and evil, both to be transcended alike.
This is exactly what distinguishes the Gita and puts it on
a par with the Upanishads. Such unitive treatment is quite
common as already stated.
The Gita is therefore more of a philosophic treatise than
a religious classic, especially if this feature to which we
have just now referred is read with the final injunction in
xviii, 66, where all religious duties are to be discarded.
Those who think that the Gita represents a closed scripture
of the followers of the Bhagavata cult or Vasudeva religion,
which is said to have flourished in India about 100 BCE,
will not find much support in this and other passages.
Although such an affiliation is not to be ruled out, the
conformity of the teachings of the Gita with the philosophical
outlook of the Upanishads is not the least compromised thereby.
In the light of the passages just cited, this fact is
The compound word samnyasayogayuktatma (Self affiliated to
unitive self-denial) need not necessarily refer to a samnyasi
(renouncer) known to us in the religious institutional life
of India. The notion of samnyasa (renunciation) itself will
be subjected to a great deal of revision in chapter xviii.
Moreover it is samnyasayoga (renunciation unitively understood)
and not mere renunciation which is referred to here. The
difference it makes to the meaning is quite important to note.
It is the same as between mere karma (action) and karmayoga
(action unitively understood). The latter is action subjected
to the dialectical revaluation implied in Yoga. Similarly the
term samnyasayoga is plain renunciation as understood
before the time of the Gita, also subjected to dialectical
revaluation. It thus comes to represent a way of life which
involves action with a certain amount of detachment. The
nature of that detachment is the same as the surrender to
the Absolute referred to in the previous verse.
By being thus adjusted in the light of Yoga, the samnyasi
(renouncer) becomes vimuktah (emancipated) and attains
the highest, i.e., becomes freed from the bondage of action.
samo 'ham sarvabhuteshu
na me dveshyo 'sti na prayah
ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya
mayi te teshu cha 'py aham
I (regard) all beings equally. To Me there is none hateful
or dear. They however who worship with devotion, they are
in Me and I too am in them.
From the side of the Absolute, the implications of the
previous verse are here reiterated. In most other passages
at the beginning and end of the Gita we find that Krishna
likes or dislikes, approves or disapproves of certain static
points or attributes. Here the point of neutrality is stressed.
Equality of opposites is the key-word here. He considers
everybody equal, and the question of cruel punishment, as
implied in xvi, 19 and 20, does not arise. Nor is there that
asymmetry between God and creation indicated in the earlier
chapters, in which
God is not in creation, but creation is in God (vii, 12). The
distinction as between the instrument and the operator is not
crudely pronounced as in xviii, 61, where actualities are
This neutral. theoretical position of the Absolute has
therefore its right place at the centre of the work. The familiar
expression of priya (dear) as applied to a devotee or disciple,
with a certain amount of partiality implied in it, is altogether
absent here. The relation is therefore pure and sublime.
Whether a devotee lives in God or God lives in the devotee, the
resultant being the same, the perfect unity of worshipper and
worshipped being here, the question of difference does not arise.
api chet sudurachiro
bhajate mam ananyabhak
sadhur eva sa mantavyah
samyag vyavasito hi sah
Even if one of very evil actions should worship Me with a
devotion exclusive of all else, he should be accounted to be good
all the same merely by the fact that he has a properly settled
Underlying the four verses beginning here there is the
same principle which in its implication makes the Gita one
of the most open and generous of scriptures. Not only is the
door open to all grades in society, irrespective of caste or
religious merit, but also there is full hope even to a person
who is branded specifically as a suduracharah (one of
very evil actions).
The sinner against whom the doors of heaven are shut, which
is a favourite theological formula found in most religious books,
is given not only all the hope but even a status of equality
with any other spiritual seeker, if only his affiliation contains
the least element of absolutism. The spark thus kindled is
expected to burn backwards and consume all dross, as stated
in iv, 37. The slightest kindling of the fire of wisdom is
enough, and everything else is automatically accomplished.
The expression ananyabhak (devotion exclusive of all else)
secures the same condition of bipolarity for the speedy
emancipation of the person concerned as more clearly stated
in the next verse.
The phrase samyag vyavasitah (properly settled determination)
implies that the proper determination takes into its
purview some idea, however vague, of the Absolute to
which the person is affiliated. Thus the determination
contains the seed of wisdom which is the saving factor.
Further that it is the Absolute which is intended here is
brought out by the pronoun mam (Me).
The theoretical principle here involved is the same as in
the case where a number of passengers form a queue to buy
a ticket to a certain destination. As passengers they all
have an equal status, irrespective of the ordinal position
they have in the queue.
The exprssion mantavyah (should be accounted) is because
in principle there is no difference between the person here
in status and anybody else, however advanced he might be
in good conduct. Moreover, social conduct has no direct
bearing in the context of contemplation, to which the Gita
properly belongs, as had been made clear by Bergson in
"The Two Sources of Morality and Religion".
kshipram bhavati dharmatma
na me bhaktah pranasyati
Instantaneously he becomes established in his own right
nature and enters into eternal peace. Believe Me in all
confidence, 0 Son of Kunti (Arjuna), that one affiliated
to Me with fidelity knows no destruction.
This verse confirms the same principle, with the additional
guarantee that the devotee in this sense never perishes.
When we, speak of "life everlasting" in the context of
contemplation, its own negative corollary or counterpart
should be understood to be "mortality", or being caught in
the world of relativism. The Gita says, in iv, 40, that the
man of doubt or conflict perishes. Being saved and perishing
should be understood in contemplation as belonging to the
idiom and language peculiar to contemplative metaphysics
and not in the actual sense. The true contemplative who
fulfils the conditions implied in the previous verse enjoys
what is called eternal life or life in the eternal now. That,
in short, is what
is meant here, by the transformation of an evildoer into a
good man, mentioned as being instantaneous or speedy, as
implied in the term kshipram.
The word dharmatma simply refers to one who is his
own natural and correct inclination which can never be bad.
Rousseau's doctrine of nature being good is implied here.
Even values such as eternal peace, which are spoken of as
the supreme goal of all spiritual life, come within the reach
of the evildoer referred to here, when he fulfils the
apparently requisite conditions. Then there is the confident
and fully reassuring promise solemnly made in a tone of
intimacy to Arjuna, stating that the true contemplative lives
a life which is eternal.
mam hi partha vyapasritya
ye 'pi syuh papayonayah
striyo vaisyas tatha sudras
te 'pi yanti param gatim
They too who resort to Me for refuge, 0 Partha (Arjuna),
whoever they might be, (whether) women, workers (sudras)
as well as farmer-merchants (vaisyas), (all) of sinful
origin, they too attain to the supreme goal.
This verse abolishes one of the darkest blemishes that have
stained the spirituality of India through the ages. In
extolling as superior certain patterns of human virtues or
conduct, and decrying others as low or inferior, there crept
into the long history of Indian spirituality a stratifying
and petrifying influence by which the whole of society was
divided into watertight compartments known as castes.
India being a country which gave primacy to spiritual
values, this compartmentalization became accentuated to
such an extent that to the common man these divisions
became more real than the divisions which exist among
different species of animals.
The idea of caste was not confined only to the four castes
in the popular mind. In fact the fissiparous tendency which
is at the root of caste is an evil found in human nature
itself anywhere in the world. The extreme harshness of
attitude which exists even today between the Negro and the
white man is only one example. This tendency always helps
the formation of a hierarchy of groups, often very numerous,
and based on no first principles at all, but merely upon
On the Indian soil the same phenomenon was repeated, but the
experience of the Indian people in this matter made them
codify and state clearly from time to time the principles
involved in such a division. The codes of Manu and
Yajnavalkhya and others, which were written comparatively
early in the history of the Indian people after the
penetration of the Aryans into the amorphous matrix of
the original inhabitants, were conceived, so to say, on a war
footing, and the numerous castes which necessarily existed,
based on racial and political considerations, were reduced to
four main divisions in such codes.
We have explained elsewhere how these four divisions gained
their gradation on the principle of necessity to which the
natural sections of society were subjected.
The sudra, or the proletarian or worker, was one whose life
was most deeply involved in necessity; while the brahmana
or scholar was the leader of the wisdom-dialectics and was
the least involved.
These four divisions, conceived on principles which were
seemingly fluid, had a certain rigidity and hereditary fixity
when understood in the days of warfare between Aryan
invaders and the original inhabitants. It was a Hitlerian
justice that the codes tacitly accepted as their basis. As a
result, it was the prevailing belief at the time of the Gita
that women (who probably belonged mostly to the side that was
conquered), sudras (workers) and vaisyas (agriculturists and
merchants) could not aspire for emancipation in the same
sense, as it applied to the conquering party consisting of
the brahmanas (scholars and priests) and their allies among
the conquered who were called kshattriyas (warriors and tribal
This verse breaks this hardened tradition with one
revolutionary sweep as it were, the full significance of which
may perhaps be lost to the modern reader, more especially of
On the Indian soil, however, the same prejudices have
persisted down to our own times and have taken the most
cruel forms in social life. It was given to people like
Mahatma Gandhi to face it frontally, though only to drive it
underground. Though the winds of modernism seem to take
the poignancy of the injustice as seen from the public angle,
much of it still persists under the visible level, in spite
of such verses as the present in the Gita, which boldly throws
open the doors of the highest form of spiritual life, without
The singling out of the three, the woman, the worker and
the peasant-trader, and reference to them as being "born of
sin" must be understood in the light of the prevailing
language of the time, and not as containing the opinion of
the author of the Gita.
It is as when a group of people who had to have tickets to
enter a certain place were notified that they could enter now
without tickets at all. We cannot therefore charge the Gita
itself of making any discrimination between the groups
mentioned in this verse and those to be mentioned in the
next. Such a separate reference to the two groups was
factually and incidentally necessary at the time the Gita
There are superficial pandits who see in the expression
papayonayah (those born out of a womb of sin) a tacit
acceptance of hereditary caste discrimination in the Gita.
They are as mistaken as those who object to the statement
in this verse as containing an express affront degrading to
all those who are not brahmanas (scholars) or kshattriyas
(warriors). But one is compelled to refer to facts, even in
abolishing a long-standing injustice, and such references
should neither hurt nor be a matter of elation to any
At the time of the penetration of the Aryans into India,
the discussion of caste had to be on a regular militant basis.
Even at the time of the writing of the Gita it had still to
have strong colouration reminiscent of the original war
footing. In modern times even the reference to the castes,
and more especially the reference to those of sinful origin, is
repugnant and unnecessary. The brahmin and the pariah
belong to a traditional dialectical school of wisdom whose
frontiers have long been abolished. Modern wisdom is to be
conceived only on a universal, worldwide or global basis.
What this verse does is to really guarantee fully the
perfect open nature of the way of life of the Gita.
kim punar brahmanah punya
bhakta rajarshayas latha
anityam asukham lokam
imam prapya bhajasva mam
How much more then the pure brahmanas, as also the devoted
royal sages. Having reached this transient joyless world
do you worship Me.
The first two castes are bracketted together under those who
are pure, holy or devout. The brahmanas, as Vedic scholars,
are honoured wherever they go, and thus enjoy a certain
freedom. The kshattriyas (warriors), being rulers, have power
in their hands which is capable of creating for them a certain
amount of freedom, though mostly limited in their own
domain, unless they are rishis (seers or sages) at the same
time. It is the latter type to whom pointed allusion is made
when treated together with the Brahmanas.
When we remember that some of the important Upanishads are to
be traced to kshattriyas (warriors and kings) rather than to
brahmins, the superiority here attributed to these two
classes is understandable.
Here again the word punya (holy or pure), as opposed to
papayonayah (those born out of a womb of sin), in the
previous verse, has an outmoded ring, for which we should
make due allowance in the light of historical circumstances
peculiar to the period. When we consider that ahimsa (non-
hurting) as a doctrine came into vogue among modern
brahmins only after the influence of heterodox religions like
Buddhism and Jainism, while originally animal sacrifices
were quite common among Vedic brahmins, we have a similar
instance of religious revaluation which can change the
position drastically. The question of caste here is similarly
subjected to revaluation, but vestiges of the past still
cling to it, as in the instance of the expressions referred
to. Revaluation has gone on apace, even after the time of the
Gita, and in the modern Indian situation many saints have
spoken against these caste distinctions altogether.
Among such, Narayana Guru (1855-1928) occupies a central and
significant position. He has subjected the question to proper
philosophical scrutiny, and in condemning caste and declaring
that all men belong to one and the same caste, kind or species,
he has the advantage of the favourable breezes of modernism
to which we have already alluded.
Caste distinctions are as repugnant to the spirit of Vedanta,
as they are to the modern man, influenced by notions of justice
and democracy, which may be said to be the special contribution
of the West.
The brahmin and the pariah are both looked upon as human beings
first, and any difference of custom or tradition between them
has no longer any significance in the present condition of
society. This is where the Guru and the reformer may be said
to meet, as it were.
The concluding admonition in this verse is intended to sum up
the position arrived at, at the end of this important chapter.
This world is joyless as perhaps too well recognized in the
philosophy of Buddhism. The values in this world into which
we are born naturally are tantalizing and do not have any
lasting character. The way out of it is through adoration
of the Absolute along the lines given so far.
madyaji mam namaskuru
mam tvai ‘shyasi yuktvai’vam
Become one with Me; be devoted to Me; sacrifice to Me;
bow down to Me; unifying thus yourself, you shall surely
come to Me, your supreme Goal none other than Me.
This verse repeats in other words what has been said at the
end of the last verse. The object of the repetition
evidently is to end the chapter on the note which as we have
seen, has been running through the whole chapter.
The expression manmana bhava (become Me-minded, i.e.,
attain to mental identification with the Absolute) is quite
in keeping with the Upanishadic dictum that a Brahman-
knower verily becomes Brahman (the Absolute), or reaches
the Supreme, as stated in the Taittiriya Upanishad and
When the mind attains identity with the Absolute, it loses
all its egotism and a sense of agency in actions. When union
is thus established at the level of the mind, other attitudes
follow in outward actions. Here, outward actions which belong
to religious or spiritual discipline are again referred
to one after another.
The expression madbhakto (be devoted to Me) refers to a
religious attitude; madyaji (sacrifice to Me) to the ritualist
context; and mam namaskuru (bow down to Me) refers to the
most overt form of behaviour involving the body, again in
the context of spirituality. Such wholesale affiliation at
and representing different contexts brings together all
possible attitudes into one wholesale affiliation to the
The result indicated here when examined side by side with
the same verse as nearly repeated in xviii, 65, reveals a
subtle distinction intended by the author. Whereas at the
end of the Gita, attaining the Absolute is spoken of more
in terms of an implied duality between the worshipper and
the Absolute, here it is conceived in terms of Self-knowledge.
The Absolute is within one self. Such is the pure position
of the Upanishads as expressed in the mahavakyas (great
sayings) such as tat-tvam-asi (That thou art). The pure
teaching intended in this chapter is thus naturally
with the above difference. A certain balancing of two
aspects of the same Self is what happens here when surrender
to the Absolute has taken place.
It would be relevant to add that most of the important
points of this chapter have already been once covered in
Chapter iv, under the caption of jnana-yoga (Unitive
Wisdom). It was however as placed among other chapters of
recognized branches of wisdom that the subject was treated
there in a preliminary fashion. No question of living the way
of wisdom or mixing wisdom with spirituality generally
understood was thought of in the earlier chapter, although
the main high lights of the doctrine were covered in a
Here the same is treated with all its concomitant and
subsidiary bearings, bringing in even those aspects of
spiritual life which have been considered to be outside
the domain of pure wisdom.
The open character and catholicity implied in this chapter
and the high hope which it holds out to every human being
give this chapter a status of its own at the centre of the
work. The technical and scientific details of establishing
bipolar relationship with the Absolute, which is perhaps the
central teaching of the Gita, finds finalized expression.
Being thus related to the Absolute is the way recommended
for freedom from the ills of life or salvation as the chapter
sums up its penultimate verse.
The acceptance of even puerile forms of worship as permissive
in this kind of affiliation to the Absolute is perhaps one of
the special contributions of the Gita.
Orthodoxy is still capable of being reconciled with the way
of wisdom. Thus without breaking with the past, the Gita
accomplishes what few prophets have ever achieved in
fulfilling without destruction.
In aiming a sledge-hammer blow at the citadel of caste
and in admitting even the worst sinners into its most
generously conceived fold, the Gita as understood in this
The claim that this chapter contains the most secret of
secrets, as also the most open ways of wisdom is more than
justified when we examine it closely; although, perhaps, the
statements in earlier preliminary chapters might appear
more sublime, at a first reading.
Krishna opens his mind to Arjuna without reserve here, but
it is in the next chapter that the initiative becomes more
explicit. It is the neutrality of this chapter which,
reflected in many verses, enshrines the great secret.
By treating good and bad on a par both as items to be
transcended by a unitive way of life, by speaking of the
Absolute as both existent and non-existent, by its stress on
the need to transcend both sin and even virtue, while still
extolling the numinous value-factor implied in the
Absolute, and stressing the need for knowing the Absolute
as it ought to be known according to first principles proper
to the Gita (in Verse 24), by all these features this chapter
deserves to be considered as having an important central
place in relation to the teaching of the Gita taken as a
whole. Our survey of later chapters will help us to verify
the validity of this claim beyond dispute.
ity srimad bhagavadgitasupanishatsu brahmavidyayam yogasastre
rajavidyarajaguhyayogo nama navamo'dhyayah
Thus ends in the Upanishads of the Songs of God, in the Science
of the Wisdom of the Absolute, in the Dialogue between Sri
Krishna and. Arjuna, the Ninth Chapter entitled Unitive Contemplation as a Royal Science and Crowning Secret.